Maybe you’re out of the cartoon loop. Maybe you don’t have cable TV. Maybe you’re a former fan who got super distracted by Breaking Bad. Well, there’s been no better time to reconnect. We live in a golden age of television, and animation is no exception–plus shows are passing the Mako Mori Test left and right (in most episodes, at least one female character has her own narrative arc distinct from any male characters’ arcs.)
If you have the time, these shows are ready to tickle your nucleus accumbens.
Here we go, in no particular order:
1. Gravity Falls (TV-G)
Creator: Alex Hirsch. Worked on The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack alongside Pendleton Ward (Adventure Time) and J.G. Quintel (Regular Show)
Pros: Builds a continuity. Funny on many levels. Based loosely on show creator’s real-life upbringing, twin sister, twin sister’s desire for pig.
Cons: Show creator’s age (28) may cause feelings of inadequacy. Also, show is on the air when kids are at school? I don’t understand modern TV schedules.
How it passes: Dipper (Jason Ritter) may be the show’s star, but his boy-crazy, bossy (in a good way) twin sister Mabel (Kristen Schaal) follows her own dreams–whether it’s winning a pig or, you know, surviving attack by candy monster.
Where to watch: Disney XD, weekdays 11 AM EST
Ambassador Episode (if you like this, you’ll like the rest): “Tourist Trapped” Season 1 Episode 1. In most Gravity Falls episodes, it’s clever Dipper or even bumbling Soos that defeats the baddie. In others, the story resolution is “Mabel feels bad for being so bossy.” Fortunately, the series pilot gives a taste of capable Mabel: cornered by murderous gnomes, Mabel pushes past her brother’s objections to execute her own plan and save the day.
2. Archer (TV-MA)
Creator: Adam Reed (Sealab 2021, Frisky Dingo)
Pros: Highest joke-per-minute ratio. Impossible to read dialogue without hearing character voices. Female characters are abundant, differentiated, and as horny/unsavory/incompetent as the male ones.
Cons: Unabashed, one-sided sexploitation. Fat-shaming. Ants. Let’s reaffirm that just because a show passes the Mako Mori Test doesn’t make it feminist.
How it passes: Stay with me. Yes, Lana (who is Black) and Pam (who is fat) are subjected to having their clothes removed with a frequency no other series regulars are, and that deserves to be unpacked. At the same time, the four female main characters, all assertive sexual beings, represent a range of age and body type utterly absent from any other series–animated or… well, I’d say live-action, but I don’t watch a lot of live-action. Is there a lot of lady diversity on The Good Wife? Anyway, Lana (Aisha Tyler) dreams of starting her own agency, Pam (Amber Nash) taunts and kills her own kidnappers, and Malory (Jessica Walter) runs the agency and her adult child with a dash of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. And Cheryl (Judy Greer)? She’s one in an LSD-gummy-bear-eating billion.
Where to watch: FX, Thursdays at 10 PM EST; Hulu; Netflix (through Season 4)
Ambassador Episode: “The Wind Cries Mary” Season 4 Episode 2. When Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) reignites a bromance, ISIS sends Cyril (Chris Parnell) and Lana to extract him. Lana exhibits ingenuity, endurance, and abundant one-liners, albeit poor marksmanship. No one said she was perfect.
Voted most likely to spatter blood.
3. Adventure Time (TV-PG)
Creator: Pendleton Ward
Pros: Gorgeous retro title cards. Pretty even male-female cast split. Sprawling continuity. Startling story twists. Feels.
Cons: Not enough Lumpy Space Princess, IMO.
How it passes: Gender-swap episodes not needed–Princess Bubblegum is a wonder of princess-trope-puncturing. She solves mysteries, punches baddies, and doesn’t always have the best attitude about it.
Where to watch: Cartoon Network basically all the time (Weekdays 12:00 PM, 12:30 PM, 5:00 PM, 5:30, 7:00 PM EST, Weekends even more); Netflix (seasons 1&2)
Ambassador Episode: There are emotions aplenty in Season 5’s “Simon and Marcy,” but you’ll need traction on the show (Ice King who? Marceline what?) to feel them. For goofy, encapsulated, lady-dense madness, try “Sky Witch,” Season 5 Episode 29, where pushy vampire Marceline (Olivia Olson) enlists smug Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch) to retrieve a sentimental object. There’s lots of pink, but it’s not always pretty. Miyazaki would high-five.
4. Bob’s Burgers (TV-PG)
Creator: Loren Bouchard
Pros: Fast, weird, charming. Rampant puns. Every character gets a spin on the plot-go-round.
Cons: Linda (mother) and Tina (older daughter) Belcher are voiced by men (John Roberts and Dan Mintz, respectively.) Don’t get me wrong, they actors do great work, and it’s impossible to imagine the characters any other way, but it’s a bit of a throwback to a men-as-women-are-funnier-than-women-as-women era.
How it passes: Social-climbing, pushy-but-loving Linda is no long-suffering Marge Simpson or Lois Griffin–she has her own schemes and suffers her own consequences. Young Louise (Kristen Schaal AGAIN) is an adorable holy terror and slap-happy taskmaster, to other kids as well as her own family. Even the most inert member of the cast–creative, horny, and creatively horny Tina–has and pursues her own desires, which unlike many animated teen TV daughters aren’t just to snark and be snarked at.
Where to watch: Fox, Sundays at 7:00 PM EST; Netflix (through Season 3); Hulu
Ambassador Episode: “Spaghetti Western and Meatballs” Season 1, Episode 9. The rediscovery of an old Western movie excites Bob (H. Jon Benjamin AGAIN) and son Gene (Eugene Mirman), making younger daughter Louise feel edged out of father-daughter TV bonding time. Louise’s realization at the end–that she doesn’t have much time to be one of the guys before puberty ruins everything–poignantly arrives while hiding in a jungle gym with Bob and Gene. Is it emotion bringing a tear to my eye, or is it the cloud of farts?
Voted most likely to make you resent Italian food.
5. Rick and Morty
Creators: Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon
Pros: So funny you might die.
Cons: Ubiquitous whiteness. Hard to get used to eyeballs’ asterisk pupils. Binge-watching make one feel slightly ill, like reading two tabloids or eating a whole movie theater box of Hot Tamales before the trailers are over. Not sure why.
How it passes: Rick’s obvious preference for Morty leaves teenage daughter Summer (Spencer Grammer) feeling left out–a complaint she loudly voices. Instead of remaining a wet blanket (a la early Lisa Simpson) or a punching bag (a la later Meg Griffin), Summer muscles her way in on adventures and has to deal with the consequences–fun and not fun. Does this happen only once, perhaps in a throwaway “Summer episode”? No. Her agenda and character arc keep steering stories and fueling the canon for the rest of the season. Meanwhile the mother, Beth (Sarah Chalke) contends with an unwanted suitor, doubts about her marriage, and the gore-smeared pressures of being a truly great horse heart surgeon.
Where to watch: Cartoon Network, Mondays at 10:30 PM EST
Ambassador Episode: “Raising Gazorpazorp” (Season 1 Episode 7) is great, and features Farscape and Dragon Age: Origins favorite Claudia Black, but it’s patently about men-are-like-this and women-are-like-that and so not really representative of what women usually get to do on the show. Sample instead “Something Ricked This Way Comes” (Season 1 Episode 9), where teenage daughter Summer (Spencer Grammer) finds a father figure in The Devil. This episode also includes the rapidly-becoming-iconic “pass the butter” scene. Or–you know what?–start with the pilot and watch the whole season. It’s only 11 episodes. There are no bad ones.
Voted most likely to leave you slightly squicked out and slightly shattered.
- If you haven’t encountered it already, Wander Over Yonder on Disney XD is the latest series from Craig McCracken (Powerpuff Girls, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends), featuring the writing talents of Lauren Faust (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic) and Matt Chapman (Gravity Falls, Homestar Runner). If you can view this clip without passing into a giddy overstimulated panic, you’re made of sterner stuff than I.